When Ashley Sanders started her round of visits to the elderly this week as a county home-care aide, she said she had four medical masks issued by Miami-Dade. They had to last the entire week.
Her schedule required 20 stops at homes of people in their 80s and 90s by Friday, and she didn’t want to reuse masks. So Sanders said she ran out after one day, and had no choice but to make home visits with an uncovered face in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Today, my client asked: ‘Why don’t you have a mask?’ She’s scared,” Sanders, 33, said near the end of her workday on Friday. “It’s definitely scary. … We only get four masks for one week.”
The largest local government in Florida faces its steepest challenge ever in trying to keep its workforce healthy as a virus sweeps through the Miami-Dade population and faces global competition for the supplies needed to protect workers. The head of social services said there should be plenty of masks for home-care workers next week thanks to a recent delivery.
Most county services remain available, even as Miami-Dade is losing workers to quarantine and facing daunting challenges in how employees do their work.
Late Tuesday, Miami-Dade shut down its entire permitting building and shifted paperwork online after multiple employees tested positive for COVID-19. It also told the more than 400 county workers inside the building to self-isolate for 14 days.
The jarring news followed two days when the building was allowed to open and serve customers after an earlier COVID-19 diagnosis there. The building at 11805 SW 26th St. in Kendall had closed for 48 hours for cleaning the prior week after one employee tested positive for the virus.
From a Miami-Dade bus operator today as the county cuts service during coronavirus crisis. They’re issued one pair of gloves and one wipe per shift. @IRideMDT dir Alice Bravo confirmed the extreme rationing: “We need a lot more o these supplies.”
County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava said she’s been glad to see some departments shift office-bound employees to four-day work weeks, with 10-hour daily shifts. But she said more action is needed to send more county office workers home. “I am concerned,” she said. “But I do believe they’re pushing hard to take the proper precautions.”
NEW WAYS TO BOARD THE BUS IN MIAMI-DADE
At the start of the crisis, Miami-Dade’s transit system was issuing a single Clorox wipe to bus drivers before shifts. Now that transit fares are suspended, buses have closed off their front doors to make passengers board from the back.
“The operators are scared,” said Jeffery Mitchell, head of the county’s transit union. “They’re still getting one wipe and one pair of gloves. No masks.”
Alice Bravo, head of transit for the county, said Miami-Dade has been able to increase the frequency of wiping down buses now that schedules are cut and ridership is down by more than 60 percent. She said agency employees whose age or medical conditions make them more at risk for COVID-19 complications are being shifted away from driver roles to reduce risk, with some assigned to help with increased cleaning.
Transit, she said, remains in demand. “There are people who depend on the service,” she said. “They’re going to the doctor, they’re going to the grocery store.”
At Miami-Dade’s housing agency, residents of a senior complex in Miami that includes the Robert King High towers were recently instructed to halt all visits from children after a resident tested positive for COVID-19. A printed notice to residents also called for limited family visitation overall, and noted “staff is authorized to enforce these policies.”
“We’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing,” said Michael Liu, director of public housing for Miami-Dade. “We’re cleaning our common areas and our elevators three or four times a day.”
MIAMI-DADE’S SANITATION CREWS REMAIN FULLY STAFFED
The county employees driving Miami-Dade sanitation trucks no longer use fingerprint scanners to clock in for a shift, and residents who pull up to county recycling centers are told to keep their windows up and display driver licenses through the glass. Michael Fernandez, director of the county’s Solid Waste department, said so far the virus hasn’t hit drivers, who typically work alone in trucks assigned to them.
“We are not experiencing anything out of the ordinary with drivers getting sick,” he said. ”We’re staffing all our routes, and getting the garbage picked up.”
SPECIAL BATHS TO REMOVE CORONAVIRUS FOR SHELTER DOGS AND CATS
At the county animal shelter in Doral, workers are using a diluted hydrogen-peroxide bath for dogs and cats abandoned by owners suspected of COVID-19 exposure. The animals are then quarantined for five days with no direct human contact, said Kathleen Labrada, an assistant director at Animal Services.
She said based on guidance from the University of Florida’s veterinary school, dogs and cats don’t transmit COVID-19 but they can infect humans if the virus is on their fur or collars. “The dog you handle as a surface” and clean it, Labrada said.
So far, only three animals have sparked the COVID-19 treatment at Animal Services, including a dog from a family who came back from New York where a relative had contracted the virus. “There wasn’t good information about whether the dog had been exposed,” she said. “So we treated that as an exposure.”
Alex Muñoz, the agency’s director, said Animal Services is bracing for a surge in people abandoning pets as unemployment sweeps through Miami-Dade and sickness spreads. He said the Animal Services staff’s existing surgical supplies should last at least 30 days but that it’s been a challenge to secure replacements.
“We are in the same struggle that the human healthcare providers are in terms of the supply of gowns and masks,” Labrada said.
SUPPLY SHORTAGES IN HOME CARE
Supply shortages at the county’s home-care division within the Department of Community Action and Human Services has the union representing those employees calling on Miami-Dade to take action.
Se’Adoreia “Cee Cee” Brown, a local AFSCME president in Miami-Dade, said the county should reduce home visits to the number of masks available to each staff member.
“They don’t mind doing the work,” during the pandemic, but supply shortages needed to be addressed, Brown said. “They’re not only putting themselves at risk, but the clients they’re seeing.”
Lucia Davis-Raiford, director of the county’s social services arm, Community Action and Human Services, said the last week was challenging on supplies but that a back order has arrived that should mean ample masks in the coming week for homecare aides as they clean for clients and help some in the bathroom. She said she didn’t think masks were in such supply that only four would be issued to someone for an entire week.
“Thankfully, thankfully we have supplies,” she said. “That work is up close and personal.”
For Sanders, now in her seventh year providing home care, coronavirus has meant prowling Amazon for her own supply of masks and making do with goggles she purchased herself.
“I’ve got family who call and ask if I’m okay,” said Sanders, a Coconut Grove resident who said she earns about $15 an hour. “Because they know what kind of work I do.”